Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
So what’s it all about? It’s Pentecost Sunday. Reading these first twenty-one verses of Acts, there’s all kinds of stuff going on. Is it about a mighty, rushing wind? Is it about cloven tongues of fire? Or, is it about the disciples standing and speaking in other tongues, not some unintelligible babbling but actual other human languages? Is it about Jewish guys slandering the apostle guys by saying they’re drunk? Is it about Peter’s sermon?
Truth is, today’s about faith. It really is. The sound of the mighty rushing wind, the cloven tongues of fire identifying the apostles, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church, the speaking of the mighty deeds of God in other languages, it’s about faith, the faith passed down through the apostles, the faith which we believe.
So the mighty rushing wind signals the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church built upon Jesus. The cloven tongues of fire mark the disciples as apostles, sent guys, sent for the purpose of Christ. They proclaim the mighty deeds of God, the mighty deeds of the rescue of Noah, the rescue of Israel in the Exodus, and all the mighty deeds of the Old Testament. What’s more, people hear them in their own language, people from every nation under heaven.
Peter stands up and begins to speak. He proclaims that the fulfillment of the prophet Joel is in Jesus. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. At the end of his sermon, Peter is asked by many hearers: What shall we do? Peter told them to repent, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and they would be saved. A lot of folks want to make that into a process, but it’s not. It’s about faith – trusting in Jesus Christ.
Peter told those same hearers that this promise – the one calling on the name of Jesus would be saved – that same promise is given to them and to their children and to all who are far off. The promise is that, working through the good news about Jesus, God the Holy Spirit creates people and makes them new.
In the good news about Jesus, the Holy Spirit brings Jesus to you, creating faith, making us new. Okay, we all know how to answer the question: How does the Holy Spirit get into our hearts to create faith? Through our ears! It’s about faith, the faith, our faith.
One of the things we learned in Catechism class was the means of grace. The other night I asked the confirmands to tell me about the means of grace. They both said rightly, and everyone should learn this – learn it, because it won’t hurt you. The means of grace are those means through which God puts us into possession of the redemption earned by Jesus. God puts us into possession of the redemption earned by Jesus.
The other part of that lesson is that we receive it by faith. We receive it by faith. The Holy Spirit working through the word about Jesus creates and strengthens and sustains faith. He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies Christians, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.
In your baptism, you were brought to faith. There will be those who will challenge you, but I want to tell you a really important Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 12:3 – No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Let’s hear that again: No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t about age or how smart someone is or anything else. Faith is the work of God the Holy Spirit – period, end of discussion.
As you come to the Lord’s table, you have the promise that Jesus gives you His body and blood – His very, very real body and blood that was sacrificed for you on the cross – He gives that to you under bread and wine.
Now, that’s either the most preposterous, bombastic snake oil in history, or it’s the truth. The Holy Spirit, working through the good news about Jesus, teaches us all that Jesus has given. By the Spirit, we know that Jesus gives us His body and blood under bread and wine – we know it! And, receiving, we receive the blessings of forgiveness and life and eternal salvation.
It’s about faith – the faith, our faith. Years after Peter preached the sermon on the day of Pentecost, in a letter, he wrote: 9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
Through Jesus’ commissioning and sending, the Holy Spirit took twelve men who weren’t all that bold, who were greatly concerned about things of this life, and transformed them. They were transformed into bold preachers. Their view of the things of this world was transformed so that everything was seen from an other-worldly point of view.
Working through the Word about Jesus, that’s what the Spirit does. He takes people, men and women, boys and girls, and transforms them into completely different people. They are no longer people of this world, but people who are children of God through Jesus.
People of God, those who have been brought into the household of God in the waters of Holy Baptism, you are a peculiar people. You belong exclusively to God the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. You are not of this world, this broken, dying world. Rather, you are looking for the life to come, a life of resurrection. It’s about faith, the faith, our faith.
By the Holy Spirit’s working through the Word about Jesus, through the Spirit’s work in the waters of Holy Baptism, as the Spirit works through the promise Jesus gives you in His Holy Supper, the Church and her Christians are different, peculiar. This past Wednesday in Bible Class we started talking about how the Church and her Christians live in this world: we’re resident aliens.
We live by the faith that’s based in Jesus who was dead and is alive. The other night, I asked the confirmands to recite 1 Corinthians 15:3 and following. It goes like this:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Paul goes through a whole list of people to whom a very much alive Jesus appeared after His resurrection. This is no mass hysteria – nobody could pull that off. No, this is faith based in actual, historical even that’s transmitted by the testimony of the apostles. This is the good news through which the Spirit works.
Even though we live in this city of man, we long for the city of God. And, in hope, we cling to Jesus – the one calling on the name of the Lord will be saved, Peter proclaimed. Peter by the guiding of the Holy Spirit was calling hearts to believe.
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, we’re taught whose we are. We’re taught that by the Holy Spirit working through the Good News about Jesus, we who were not a people, not anything really, are changed, transformed. We’re shaped into the people of God. We’re a peculiar people, one claimed exclusively by God the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
We live in faith, the faith handed down to us, our faith that we confess with the whole Church in heaven and on earth. Our ways are different. Our language is different. Our hope is completely opposite that of this life. Later in Acts 2, we’re taught that those of the Church devoted themselves continually to the apostles’ doctrine and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. That’s different. That’s peculiar. That’s life lived in this life with an eye toward the life to come. That’s the life of faith.
Pentecost isn’t about being Super Christians with capes on our backs and big Cs on our chest. We’re not called to that. That’s not the faith. No, we’re called to be the Church – that body of Christ kept with Jesus in the one true faith by the Spirit until Jesus appears in glory.
We’re called to be the Church that proclaims Jesus, whose Christians’ lives are set apart because of faith. In every calling in life, in the life of faith, it points to the peculiarity of the word about Jesus. We’re called to be peculiar in this life, living here with an eye to the life to come. That’s by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit.
C. S. Lewis famously wrote, If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next…they left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven.
May God the Holy Spirit so guide us and keep us as God’s peculiar people, people who confess the one true faith. May He keep us with Jesus Christ and shape us through the Good News about Jesus, that calling on the name of the Lord in this life, we may be delivered to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name. AMEN